Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez in Machete.
The rising presence of Hispanic women in Hollywood is quite extraordinary this year. Slowly but surely, Tinseltown is taking note of talented Hispanic women, most recently with Robert Rodriguez’s film Machete starring Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez.
M. Rodriguez has climbed the ranks to stardom with tough, sucker-punching roles, and she doesn’t miss a beat in Machete as Luz, aka Shé, the leader of an underground network helping illegal immigrants. Alba has cemented her name in Hollywood with romantic comedies, playing non-Latina roles. Her character in Machete, Sartana, is an agent for the Dept. of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
When you look at the history of Hispanic roles in Hollywood, characters like Luz and Sartana have been largely non-existent. In the past, these roles would have probably been written for male actors, and a movie like Machete would have never been picked up by a major studio. So what’s caused the shift?
According to Robert Rodriguez, change is simply derived by specifically writing roles for Latinos.
"You know, it's really up to the filmmakers. Movies like Desperado wouldn't have happened if I hadn't just written a part and demanded that I cast Latino actors in them. The studio said,'Really? Cast that actor?' Back then it was odd to cast Latinos for Latino characters, but then they saw that it worked," said Rodriguez in an exclusive interview with Fandango. "…Machete is the first time [Alba has] ever played a Latina, so those movies broke a lot of barriers down."
In recent decades, only a few Latino filmmakers have won critical praise for movies with Latin casts, for films such as Zoot Suit (1981), La Bamba (1987), El Mariachi (1991), American Me (1992) My Family/Mi Familia (1995), and Jennifer Lopez’s breakthrough role in Selena (1997). Now, though, the list is ever growing, with talented film directors like Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Robert Rodriguez and Kenny Ortega, among others—all ready to cast Hispanic actors.
Alba believes audiences across the board are ready for major change—for strong Latina roles that steer away from stereotypical characters.
"I think the world is ready for people of color to take on more heroic and leading roles and not always be the side-kick or nemesis," said the actress. "This movie proves that we don’t have to follow any of the typical stereotypes."
M. Rodriguez admits to being extremely selective when accepting roles.
"I have an innate inability to want to play a creature I don’t respect,” said M. Rodriguez. “I don’t work a lot but when I do I make sure to make an impact."
And the strong female characters the actresses are advocating seem to be on the rise. This year alone has seen an exponential growth in Hispanic women taking center stage in Hollywood.
Puerto Rican star Jennifer Lopez took the lead in The Back-up Plan, Dominican and Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldana co-starred in The Losers, leading Uruguay starlet Barbara Mori starred in Kites, Honduran actress America Ferrera, best known for her TV role as Ugly Betty, starred along side Forest Whitaker in Our Family Wedding, Mexican-descended Selena Gomez co-starred in the Disney film Ramona & Beezus, Cuban actress Eva Mendez played Will Ferrell’s wife in The Other Guys, and Mexican-Brazilian newcomer Giselle Itie fired guns alongside Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.
As for Machete, Trejo demanded Robert Rodriguez cast strong female Latinas—a request that resulted in the casting of Alba and M. Rodriguez.
"Let’s have some strong women in this sh*t," said Trejo. "Michelle can star in any movie she wants to. If Hollywood were smart, she would already be starring in movies. Hollywood is so afraid that the audience isn’t there and I think that they are going to be really shocked when they see [the success of] Machete."
Shocked or not, Machete is part of a snowball effect, because many more Hispanic ladies are involved in upcoming feature films. M. Rodriguez will co-star in Battle: Los Angeles, Alba will return to the screen in Little Fockers and An Invisible Sign, Puerto Rican/Afro-Cuban Rosario Dawson will costar with Denzel Washington in Unstoppable, Mexican star Ana de La Reguera will be part of the much anticipated film Cowboys & Aliens with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, and let’s not forget Oscar winner Penelope Cruz, who will costar with Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean 4.
Time will tell if those tired, stereotype roles of the overly sexualized, submissive, childlike females previously given to Hispanic actresses are truly a thing of the past. But signs point to a new generation of Hispanic women breaking the mold.
In the words of M. Rodriguez's character, Shé, in Machete–get ready for a revolution.
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